This day in rancid, ugly, horrible, putrid, rotten history...
On this day in 1780 – [235 years ago] – an enormous hurricane swept through the Caribbean with winds of up to two hundred miles per hour, devastating colonial towns and sinking scores of British and French ships. The storm later zigagged northeast, up the Eastern Seaboard, wreaking havoc as far as Newfoundland and Bermuda, and killing more than twenty thousand people. It remains the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, worse even then Hurricane Mitch of 1998.
On this day in 1871 – [144 years ago] – the Great Chicago Fire burned itself out after having raged through the city center for three days. It killed some three hundred people, destroyed a third of the city’s real estate, and left more than one hundred thousand people homeless. To this day, the fire’s original cause remains unknown, despite many theories advanced by historians. The popular myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern was debunked long ago. One of the more sketchy but intriguing conjectures is that the fire in Chicago -- along with others occurring on the same day in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and in Holland, Michigan -- may have been ignited by red-hot meteorite fragments fallen through earth’s atmosphere from an exploding comet.
On this day in 1957 – [58 years ago] – the world’s first major nuclear accident occurred when a fire broke out at the Windscale facility in Cumbria on the northwest coast of England, releasing streams of airborne radioactive particles across the UK and Europe. Operators worked frantically all night and into the following day before finding a way to extinguish the reactor’s burning uranium cores. Once they did so, they were able to seal the reactor tank -- which remains sealed today, with fifteen tons of uranium fuel still inside. The Windscale reactor is now being decommissioned, a process expected to be complete in the year 2038.
On this day in 1973 – [42 years ago] – Spiro T. Agnew, vice president of the United States under President Richard Nixon, was forced to resign from office as a condition of a plea deal on an income tax evasion charge. Agnew had also been charged by a federal district attorney with extortion, conspiracy, and accepting more than one hundred thousand dollars in bribes while holding political office. His resignation came amid mounting revelations about the actions of Nixon administration officials in the Watergate cover-up. Agnew claimed that the federal charges against him were just Nixon’s attempt to divert attention from that scandal. He was later forced to pay the state of Maryland more than a quarter million dollars in restitution.
On this day in 1991 – [24 years ago] – a former postal worker named Joseph Harris showed up at the post office in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and shot two of his former co-workers to death, after having killed his former boss at her home the previous night. Police quickly arrived, and took Harris into custody after a four-hour standoff. The incident was one of several around that time that led to the popularization of the expression “going postal.”